Storytelling for Engineers

Storytelling for Engineers

This week, several of my lab mates are off to a large conference. In my field, conferences almost universally entail a talk of some sort, usually 10 or 15 minutes with Powerpoint slides. For most young presenters, this time limit is a huge challenge, because they are fixated on showing all of the details to validate their results. Their slides are busy, without too much information for anyone to parse in the 60 seconds they have that slide up. Consequently, they rush through a lot of material, leaving their audience unsure of what they just heard. The advice I was given by my first research advisor was to tell a story, focus on what the moral of the story is, and only give the details needed to lead the audience where you want them to go. Some of the best presentations I’ve seen have slides with a single well-designed graph. […]

Image by ezola CC BY-SA 2.0

Facilities & Support

We’ve talked before about the effect of office space on getting work done, motivation, and having somewhere to tinker. But what about the facilities and staff support element of getting your job done? By facilities, I mean both the equipment you need to do the job (microscopes, CNC mills, 3-D printer, furnaces, or what not) and the space in which you do the work. In an academic environment, there’s often a dedicated staff member to help with training and maintenance on the bigger , shared pieces of equipment, like electron microscopes. My university has some fantastic facilities and support in this respect. I can’t say enough about how wonderful these staff members have been. The equipment I have access to is cutting edge, and well-maintained.  However, the spaces themselves are a different story. My group’s optical lab suffered a major loss last week when a faulty valve in the ceiling dumped water in […]

Picture used under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 courtesy of Kate Tomlison

Why Are You an Engineer?

Since the theme of the week is motivation, I was thinking about what motivated me to pursue engineering in the first place. Recently, the Huffington Post had an interesting post on how to inspire scientists, and the disconnect between policy makers and scientists. The author also talks about engineers, and indicates that “useful and cool” are enough motivation to convince students to push through four years of college to get an engineering degree before heading out into industry to get a decent paying job at 22 to 25. And yes, the STEM fields are doing better than their non-STEM counterparts in terms of employment, but as has been discussed on this blog before, the idea of a career is changing. The economy is more global and more volatile than ever. The idea of a secure, well-paying job can be a great motivator, but it’s becoming less realistic. It seems to […]

All Engineers Should Know…

It’s finals time here, marking the end of my first semester as a TA, and it’s been an enlightening experience. I’ve discussed some of the gaps between what I expect junior-level engineering students to be familiar with, what the curriculum tells me they should be familiar with, and what they actually have learned over at my own blog. One of the biggest challenges for me has been the differences between how my undergraduate education was organized, and how things are set up at my current university. In my undergraduate experience, we were generally taking major-specific courses in our second year. I remember getting design problems and more open-ended questions my junior year, because we already had a decent background to build from. Here, students are discouraged from declaring a major within engineering until the end of their second year, instead taking courses in general engineering and humanities. In some respects, I like this approach, […]

Designed to Fail

Designed to Fail

How many of you have had this conversation? “I remember my grandma’s old Buick. That thing was built like a tank. You could hit a tree and barely leave a dent and drive away.  These new cars just fall to pieces.” In my case, I usually hear this from my father-in-law, when defending his own elderly Buick ownership. And to some degree, he is correct. Newer cars can be totaled at lower speeds, but it is on purpose. For the 50th anniversary of the creation of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, they staged a test to demonstrate how much car crashes have changed in that time (Warning: a very lovely car was destroyed to make this point). Insurance Institue for Highway Safety Photoshoot from Billy Hunt on Vimeo. Watching the video, your nostalgic friend/relative seems right about those old cars. The Bel Air comes out of the collision looking much […]